Body & Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath on 21-23rd June 2013
If a festival were to judged by the weather, then this year’s Body & Soul would certainly be remembered as an eclectic mix of elements. An eclectic mix it is, though, in every respect. Thankfully the weather is far down on peoples list of reasons to love the Ballinlough weekend. The wind howled, the sun shone, the rain poured, and sometimes even at different times. It would take more than something as trivial as mere weather to dampen the fun of navigating the forest, fields and jam-packed timetable of music and arts that have come to typify this event. We kitted Ros & Justin out in rain gear and sunglasses and packed them off to see the sights…
It’s just begun to bucket down as Jennifer Evans sets up at the Wonderlust stage, and folk duck for cover under the picturesque but hilariously inadequate canvas covers at the back of the tree-enclosed venue. She enters alone with an electric guitar and kicks off the set with Too Cool, immediately calling to mind St Vincent, with guitar chords accentuating her vocal. Post rock inflections pepper her guitar work, and she is joined by two backing vocalists early in the set. These three-part vocals instantly add a new dimension to the gig as it takes on a more overtly acapella slant, gently augmented by the guitar. It’s a fine performance, one that flits through various musical styles from folk to jazz, and by the end a smattering of appreciative souls have braved the elements to gather closer to the stage.
From the bretonLABS in London, the band pulled up to Ballinlough looking like GQ cover-stars. Looking slick, they powered into their set and immediately delivered a wall of intricate sounds. Sometimes, the layers of tones, bleeps and effects become monotonous as the band peer at their own instruments with the kind of concentration normally reserved for bomb-disposal teams. The Commission and Edward the Confessor are the highlights in a rather unimpressive set. The sparse crowd at the main stage and a rather uninspiring live-performance from the Londoners created a dull experience for all in attendance.
The Shrine Shack must surely count as the oddest venue at Body & Soul – a tiny wooden hut lined with crushed beer cans and bottles – and it’s here we encounter Tara Stacey. While the venue is unique, its location is unfortunate, sandwiched between two larger tents that makes noise bleed a bassy problem. Stacey plays a brave set to the small crowd that squeeze into the hut, and the curious passers-by that stick their heads in the open sides, but the overbearing disco beats mean it’s ill-suited to her witty, acoustic songs of love. Her set in the same venue the following day is a more successful venture, with Stacey this time playing from the window of the shack to the folk who relax on the grass outside. She throws in a couple of Caitlin Rose numbers and You’re The One That I Want, delivered in her own style, and while the noise bleed still causes issues, the crowd are encouraging.
Overhead, The Albatross
Dublin band Overhead, The Albatross are tasked with opening the Body & Soul stage on Saturday afternoon, and happily the sun is shining as punters populate the gentle hill in the main arena. Midway through their first number, though, the weather turns and rain begins to spit as a defiant cheer goes up from the crowd. It turns out the rain does them a favour, as people just seem to say ‘fuck it’, get up, and make their way down to the front. Think, Thank, Thunk features some intricate drum work and time signature shifts before its anthemic, crashing coda sees the bass player standing up at the kit, as all heads rock in unison onstage. As a main stage opener, Overhead, the Albatross pulled it out of the bag, as we’re sure the collection of dancers freaking out down front will testify.
The wee Galway fiddler was tasked with the tough mission of filling up the Midnight Circus tent just after 6pm on Saturday. The beaming smile on Daithí’s face was mirrored by the large crowd gathered within the tent who stare up at the lone man on stage. The Daithí live-set has been enhanced and developed so much over the past 1-2 years and notable differences can be heard and seen at each gig played. Before the fiddle interludes seemed needless in places and just appeared for the sake of having it. Now however, the fiddle play is inventive and creates a perfect accompaniment to the music being bashed out. His set is a mix of R’n’B samples, heavy beats and quirky loops but it is with his remixes and original content that Daithí will find his future. The clear highlight and a pre-cursor to the sun-soaked fields that would follow his performance was Chameleon Life. The song served as the perfect summer dance classic as the crowd shook off the hangover and got down to this rising star in the Irish dance scene. As the crowd got down towards the end of the set, Daithí could be seen getting up on top of his DJ booth and joining in on the self-created euphoria – he earned it.
Kurt Vile & The Violators
Spirits are high despite the damp, as Kurt Vile opens with a freewheelin’ Wakin’ On A Pretty Day. At this point the crowd is small, but dancing nonetheless and as the gig gains in momentum, so too does the capacity. Vile’s songs are laid back on the surface, but have a knack for subtly changing through the gears as they progress through their guitar layered journeys. Minor problems with feedback surface before Girl Called Alex, but things are back on track and three guitars line the stage for Ghost Town as the players heads go down in concentration. Vile’s crystal clear picking on Peeping Tomboy gets the biggest cheer of the set, before they round off with a thunderous take on Springsteen’s Freak Train, leaving to a repetitive fuzz tone.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
“Are you ready to get down?” shouts an MC, before the inimitable Charles Bradley emerges, clad in white and gold and full of declarations of love. He’s showboating from the off with Love Bug Blues, arms outstretched, spinning around and throwing shapes all over the stage. His wide-eyed howls and pronouncements are backed by a stellar band, who offer up a blistering Summer in The City instrumental while Bradley nips out for a costume change. “We’re gonna put the whipped cream on top of the sundae!” shouts the MC as Bradley re-appears on the now-glowing dusk stage for more funk soul shenanigans, dropping dramatically to his knees and turning from the crowd to pretend he’s smooching someone before exiting, leaving the band to go out on an instrumental soul run-through.
Not one to usually follow trends or any sort of perceived route through the Irish music industry, Mmoths festival set for some time has needed an injection of live elements, something he has now made an effort to work out. For many this will be the first time seeing Mmoths in such a scenario as he is joined on stage with a full live-drum set up, guitar and vocals on select tracks. Instantly, from the first track, everything just clicks. Mmoths blend of celestial and chilled-out layers send chills through the tightly packed tent at the Midnight Circus. As Mmoths delivers the tracks, the band members on stage leave and return intermittently throughout the set. What would seem disjointed actually works as the set provides a beautifully organic flow with some tracks holding a full sound while others exist more stripped back with only Jack Colleran on stage. Summer proves to be the stand-out track as Mmoths makes further strides in establishing himself as a powerful live-entity.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It’s a sombre start from Nick Cave with We Know Who U R, but by Jubilee Street the entire place has lifted off, with Cave down at the barriers while the Bad Seeds wail behind him. He’s back and forth from stage, to piano, to front row for the duration, directing a few lines of a galloping version of Deanna to someone up on shoulders a few bodies in. Jack The Ripper is an onslaught of noise, while the stage lights emulate lightening as the thunder of Tupelo rolls and the band variously rev up and slow back during the song. “Go on, sing it” he says as the crowd murmur along to God Is In The House, and a three song encore almost becomes four until Cave gives up a few bars in – “ah fuck it, I forgot the chords.”
To say that The Congos have been around for a long time is like pointing out that Ireland is indeed an island; it’s quite simply stating the obvious. Despite their tender (or is that fragile) age, the band of Rastafarian wizards exude energy whilst wobbling across the stage. While their voices don’t hold the same high-pitched strength that they used to; the new strength in their voice lies in the bumps and gritty nature that their voice now possesses. These voices go a long way in giving meaning to the lyrics as they sing songs of hardship and rising up. The set came at a time when everyone roaming around Body & Soul was just hoping and looking for one set to kick-start their last night. This moment came as the packed main stage sang back the lyrics to Fisherman. If pure and authentic reggae is what you’re after then look no further than The Congos.
Aindrias De Staic & The Lachikos
Aindrias De Staic is midway through a yarn about magic mushrooms as we enter the main arena on Sunday afternoon, before the three-piece band play some lively, folky drinking music. “Did you see Nick Cave ripping us off last night” the jovial singer asks the crowd, before The Horse Dance and another tall tale. As the song kicks up a gear, a large shaggy dog in the crowd starts sprinting around in circles across the front of the stage and around the crowd, to raucous encouragement from all in attendance, just another great moment of comedy in one of the most enjoyable shows of the weekend.
Famous by association, backing-dancer and ill-advised pop singer Solange had a rough pathway over the last couple of years. Who ever made the decision for Solange to follow an altogether different path than her sister most certainly hit the nail on the head as this set would go a long way in proving. The presence of Solange on the bill is a shining beacon of that little something different to all other acts over the weekend; this difference attracting a sizable crowd to the main stage. From the outset, Solange is a fireball of energy as she furiously weaves herself about the stage. The refreshing production and song structure among her songs stands out as not everything is about the dazzling star out the front. The band are given time to impress as drummer and guitarist thrill in parts but the highlight of the musical moments come as the bassist lays down a chillingly funky bassline that has the whole crowd pulling the ‘stink face’ of appreciation (you know the one). Don’t let Me Down is a crowd favourite but only proves a warmup for Losing You. By the time this melodic song drops, the crowd has become a sea of welly-jiving from down the front to way up the back. When she finally exits the stage, “I wish she could play all day” is heard from multiple punters about the place. A definite highlight for the weekend and here’s hoping she is returning sometime soon.
“We want willy!” goes the chant from the girls at the barriers in advance of Mr Mason…stop sniggering down the back there. Everyone seems in good form at this juncture, and no-one more so than Mason himself who chats away with the assembled. “Oh you wanna hear that? I got a plan here, I gotta stick to the plan” he replies to a request, but then soon after plays the asked-for Hard Hand To Hold. The band leaves him alone for the mid-section of the set, later re-joining him and adding sympathetic embellishment to his deep vocal. “This festival is like a labyrinth of awesomeness” he notes at one point, and the gentle pulse of Mason’s music on a sunny interlude is just one of its many delights.
Body & Soul Photo Gallery
Photos: Allen Kiely